My Favorite Images From My First Decade Of Photography


I first took an interest in photography back in 2008. The first photo I took I was really happy with was in 2009. I had a hard drive crash and much of my early work was lost. My first magazine publication in 2010. I thought it would be cool to look back over my work over the last decade. This helps me see what areas I grown and regressed as a photographer. Here are my favorite images since 2009 and little bit of there back stories.  


Raccoon, Grand Rapids, Michigan 2009

This was the first image I was really happy with. After taking this photo I decided I wanted to become a professional photographer. For the full story click here.


Nuthatch, Clare, Michigan 2010

This nuthatch hanging from my parent’s bird feeder would go on to be published in Audubon, Nature’s Best Photography, and The World of Photography Bookazine. For the full story click here.


Mountain, Field, British Columbia, Canada 2011

This mountain peak photographed on the border of British Columbia and Alberta, Canada. It would later be published in Outdoor Photographer Magazine. For the full story click here.


Bryana, Turners Falls, Massachusetts 2013

This studio portrait of model Bryanna was photographed while I was a student at the Hallmark Institute of Photography in Turners Falls, Massachusetts. For the full story click here.


Eli and Edythe Broad Art Building, East Lansing, Michigan 2013

This architectural image was photographed while I was home on spring break during my studies at the Hallmark Institute of Photography. It was later used in catalogs promoting the school.

Feona, Bernardston, Massachusetts 2013

This pet portrait was shot during my studies at the Hallmark Institute of Photography. For the full story click here.


Doc, Holyoake, Massachusetts 2013

This portrait of a doctor in Holyoake, Massachusetts was shot during my studies at the Hallmark Institute of Photography. I used a color temperature orange gel on my flash and cool white balance to make the doctor stand out from the background.


Ciara, Clare, Michigan 2013

This portrait of Ciara was shot in downtown Clare, Michigan at night. I used off camera flash to mimic the street light.


Ian, Harrison, Michigan 2013

This image of welder and art teacher Ian was photographed in Harrison, Michigan for the 515 Gallery. For the full story click here.


Church of Daniel’s Band Pine Branch, Midland, Michigan 2014

This image was commissioned by the Church of Daniel’s Band during the winter in 2014. For the full story click here.


Jason and Rachael, Grand Haven, Michigan 2014

This engagement session was done on the ice on Lake Michigan in Grand Haven during sunset.


Chickadee, Clare, Michigan 2015

This image was photographed on an early winter morning in 2015. For the full story click here.


Amish. Clare, Michigan 2017

This image was photographed on a foggy winter morning in early 2017. For the full story click here.


Chelsea and Dayna, Ann Arbor, Michigan 2017

This image of models Chelsea and Dayna next to a beautiful church door was photographed in Ann Arbor, Michigan.


Beaverton Fireworks, Beaverton, Michigan 2017

This image of the 2017 Beaverton fireworks was shot with a fisheye lens while training my second shooter Nikki Robinson.


Matt and Chelsea, Ann Arbor, Michigan 2017

This engagement portrait was shot of Matt and Chelsea in Ann Arbor, Michigan during golden hour.


Todd and Kayla, Midland, Michigan 2017

This image of Todd and Kayla was shot at one of my most frequented locations Dow Gardens in Midland, Michigan. This was taken just outside the gardens after we were kicked out.


Sam Smoke Bombs, Clare, Michigan 2018

This image was photographed of my of favorite models Sam while setting off purple smoke bombs. This image was later used as my entry into Art Walk Central in Mt Pleasant, Michigan.


Lisa, Charlevoix, Michigan 2018

This image of model Lisa was photographed in one of my favorite cities in northern Michigan, Charlevoix. The subtle gesture and soft natural light make this image one of my favorites.


Stark Family, Clare, Michigan 2018

The Starks have been repeat clients of mine since 2017. This image of them and there several dogs remains one of my favorite family portraits.


Shane and Chelsea, Midland, Michigan 2018

This engagement session of Shane and Chelsea was taken on one of the busiest days of my career at one of my most frequented locations Dow Gardens in Midland, Mi. The beautiful backlight and expression make this image one of my favorites.

More Than A Photo. An Experience.


When you hire a photographer you are getting more than a photo. You are getting an experience.

The way your photographer helps you plan, interacts with you and your family, and helps make sure everything goes right on your wedding day are just as important as the final images themselves.

Ultimately your wedding day is about you. Your family. Your friends. Not the photographer. The photographer and other vendors are there to make sure everything goes as planned on your big day.

When I sit down with potential wedding clients the most important thing I ask them is what is most important for them on their wedding day. This gives me direction for how I will shoot the wedding. For some it is all about their families coming together. For others who come from broken families they wanted a big emphasis on photos of their friends. Others have wanted a big emphasis on DIY details or places that were sentimental to them. Instead of shooting what I want for my portfolio or think will win be accolates by other photographers I focus on what my clients want. This is what ultimately matters.

During the wedding I always try to help out anyway I can. I have helped the guys getting ready fold their pocket squares, tie ties, and helped the florists get the boutonnieres to the right location. During the ceremony I want to be as inconspicuous as possible. I never want to get in-between the viewers and the bride and groom. I try to memorize as many names before hand so the group shots go smoothly. Before I leave the reception I also check to make sure there aren’t any other photos the bride and groom wants. Usually I end up staying a little over my contractual eight hours to make sure the clients get everything they want.

Your photographer is there to make your day go as best it can and get beautiful photos you will cherish along the way. The wedding day isn’t about them. They aren’t the star of the show. You are.

How To Be A Good Photography Client


Over the last ten years of doing photography I’ve gotten to work with a variety of clients. One way to guarantee a good experience with your photographer is to be a good client. Here are a handful of qualities that make a great photography client.

Showing up on time is always a plus. When planning a shoot during a pre-session consultation your photographer will know when the lighting will be best. Showing up thirty minutes, forty five minutes, or an hour late can result in completely different lighting conditions making the final images look entirely different than what was planned.

Be honest up front. If you don’t like a photo tell them during the shoot. If there is another photo you want tell them during the shoot. Even better discuss this before hand during the pre-session consultation. It ends up being a huge waste of both the client and photographers time to do reshoots.

Pay them! Yes this seems obvious but it happens. I had a few clients last year who didn’t see the need to pay. Please pay your photographers. They need to eat to. Also don’t ask them to do everything for free.  

Share their photos on social media. A ton of clients of mine come from people seeing the images I’ve taken on their friends Facebook and Instagram feeds. Helping your photographer get more work is a great way to show how much you enjoyed your session.

Leave positive reviews on social media. As someone who gets a lot of clients from out of state reviews are incredibly important. If you had a positive experience let others know about it.

Follow their newsletters and social media accounts. This is a great way to stay informed with what they are up to and help support their business.

Give referrals. Have a friend who wants a portrait or wedding photographed? Let them know about me. Unless your friend is annoying in which please send them to my competition.

How I Guarantee You’ll Have Copies Of Your Images For Years To Come


Here at Ryan Watkins Photography I go to extra lengths to make sure you will have copies of your images for years to come. How do I go about this? First of all I always shoot with two cards in my camera. As soon as I take an image a copy is made on a second card within my camera. If a card fails I already have a backup. After the wedding or session I transfer the images onto an external hard drive. Then I backup that drive to another identical external hard drive. The identical drive is kept in a locked fire and waterproof case. Once the retouching is finished I upload the images to a private online gallery. Any image sent to a client never gets deleted from the hard drive nor the private gallery. Once the wedding or session is finished there will be three copies of the finished images on two hard drives and one online copy. This process ensures that no matter what happens I have a copy of your images for years to come.

Don’t Be A Snob


A lot of people take interest in photography. Starting out it is all fun. Learning about gear. Taking nice photos. No pressure. After awhile someone will ask you how much you charge. Before you know it you are starting a business and doing it for real. After doing it for a while. Getting some high paying clients and some nice photos. The snobbery kicks in. The Dunning-Kruger effect. It happens to almost all of us photographers after a while. Sadly many never outgrow it.

Back in July 2018 I posted an article about how and why entrepreneurs have a higher rate of depression in my Facebook group the Michigan Photography Network. One member started going on a tirad about how most “entrepreneurs” he knew where actually unemployed and about how much better he was than them. As someone who has lost two close friends to suicide I had little tolerance for this guy’s egotistical tirade and blocked him from the group.

Sadly many can’t separate themselves from their work. They assume if they take a bad photo or have a rough month business wise they are a failure. This thinking leads to depression and for some even suicide. This is one of the reasons I intentionally do many things outside of photography. I’m a member of a local Jaycee chapter, a local presbyterian church, and regularly meet up with friends who could care less about what I do for a living.

A few months later I came across an article on one of my favorite blogs, fstoppers, about not bad mouthing cheaper photographers. The article was great. Those in the comments sections disagreed though. They were going on rants about how cheap photographers should “know their worth”.

Sadly a lot of people make work into something akin to a religion. I don’t though. I realize this makes me worthy of scorn in many circles in both the photography and entrepreneurial circles, but quite frankly I don’t care. I’d much rather make time for the things that matter in life instead of working and networking 24/7.

A lot of times non photographers bring their “photographer horror stories” to me. These include photographers not giving photos to clients. Photographers messing up important shots on weddings. Or photographers just acting unprofessional. Most people seem surprised that I don’t rip into these people. Why? Because we all start out there. Entrepreneurship and photography requires a lot of trial and error. Early on your going to mess up. Some more than others. I get why people hire new inexpensive photographers. But it is a gamble. Your taking a risk. Sadly I get a decent amount of clients each year who try people just starting out and end up hiring me because the shots didn’t turn out the way they like. I don’t badmouth these photographers though. Maybe professional photography isn’t for them and it will remain a hobby. Which is fine. Maybe they will learn from their mistakes, stick with it, and become professionals. Which is just fine to.

I don’t dislike the new guys. We all start out there.

5 Restaurants to Check Out in Clare, Michigan


Despite its small size my hometown of Clare, Michigan has several great restaurants worth trying out the next time you find yourself in the gateway to the north.

Cops and Doughnuts has become the namesake of Clare. It started when the local police officers bought the downtown bakery. It has now expanded to multiple locations around the state and even one outside Michigan. This is a place I regularly meet with clients for consultations. A box of Cops and Doughnuts doughnuts is also my go to when I need to bring a dish to pass to get togethers, socials, and networking events.

The Mulberry Cafe is an amazing place to stop for breakfast or lunch if you are in Clare. Located right next to the library it has some of the best sandwiches I’ve ever had. Connected to the cafe is the Herrick House which has a variety of trinkets and books for sale by local authors.

The Four Leaf Brewery is probably my favorite bar/restaurant in Clare. With an ever-changing variety of newly brewed craft beer styles, unique food, coffee shop like atmosphere, fun events, and friendly staff it has become a place a frequent. Several of my photographs also decorate the walls as well as a few images shot by my second shooter Nikki Robinson.

White House has a variety of affordable and unique food. It a great lunch option especially if you are on a budget. One of my photos used to grace the cover of their menu.

The newly opened Timeout Tavern has amazing food, a full bar, and a plethora of craft beers. It is a great dinner location.

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When To Put The Camera Down



I am constantly reading books. Not because I think I’m smart. For the opposite reason actually. I’m aware there is so much I don’t know and need to learn. I came across this passage recently which got me thinking.

“we need to rethink our memories. What if the point-and-shoot cameras in our phones make us less capable of retaining discrete memories? One psychologist calls this camera-induced amnesia the “photo-taking impairment effect,” and it works like this: by outsourcing the memory of a moment to our camera, we flatten out the event into a 2-D snapshot and proceed to ignore its many other contours—such as context, meaning, smells, touch, and taste… If the cameras in our pockets mute our moments into 2-D memories, perhaps the richest memories in life are better “captured” by our full sensory awareness in the moment—then later written down in a journal. This simple practice has proven to be a rich means of preserving memories for people throughout the centuries. Photography is a blessing, but if we impulsively turn to our camera apps too quickly, our minds can fail to capture the true moments and the rich details of an experience in exchange for visually flattened memories. Point-and-shoot cameras may in fact be costing us our most vivid recollections. But until we are convinced of this, we will continue to impulsively reach for our phones in the event of the extraordinary (or less).” Tony Reinke – 12 Ways Your Phone Is Changing You

When I was in middle and high school I had a camera with me all the time. The camera on me was always the best camera I owned. I would document everything. Hanging out with friends. Family get togethers. Nature scenes and wildlife on the way to and from church, school, or commissioned shoots. Everything. If I didn’t bring my camera with me it seemed like the event was a waste. During college my thinking started to shift. I started only bringing my professional camera with me to professional shoots for school or clients. As I grew older I became less and less obsessed with documenting every mundane detail of life. Instead I choose to live in the moment. This thinking didn’t change overnight. It wasn’t even something I really thought about until I came across the Reinke quote. It was something that gradually happened over time. In December 2013 I bought my first iPhone. The iPhone became the camera I would document ordinary life with instead of a professional camera. I even created a personal series of iPhone images from late 2013-2016. The series saw less and less additions as time went on. In 2017 almost no new images where added. In 2018 I fully removed the gallery from my website. Now in 2019 I rarely take photos with my iPhone. The exception would be images for other business related tasks instead of artistic endeavors. Photos of business cards, location scouting, or of my car so I can find out how to get back to where I parked. I’ve had to many awkward experiences with the former to not be overly cautious now. Get togethers with friends, networking events, and my other ordinary busy work see no photographic documentation from me.

A friend of mine who runs in the same entrepreneurial circles I do shares a similar outlook. He greatly enjoys travel, but doesn’t take photos of his trips. Why? Because he would rather enjoy the moment than worry about getting a good photo.

It is okay to put the camera down. Enjoy the moment. You don’t need to document every minute detail of your life.

“I now find peace in the realization that countless potential masterpieces happen each moment the world over and go unphotographed.” Dan Winters – The Road to Seeing

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A Healthy Approach to Social Media


Last year I went to one of Scott Kelby’s conferences in Lansing. I’ve been to several of his teaching events and every one has went great. Last year’s was no exception. While I was there I started talking with one of the fellow attendees. She was newer to photography and wanted to learn more about the basics. I told her about the Michigan Photography Network facebook group. I told her that many people ask photography related questions in the group. She was very anti-social media. I explained to her why I made the group. She responded with “Well I guess we can justify anything.”

I have came across several others over the last few years who have similar anti-social media views. Old friends who have wanted to hang out, but refuse to get on Facebook to see when our next get together is. Fellow entrepreneurs who have to call several people to find out when local networking events are, despite the info being clearly accessible on Facebook. Most in this camp seem to have a sense of superiority because of abstinence from social media.

On the other extreme I have came across several in entrepreneurial circles who act as if you aren’t documenting every minute detail of your life on several social media networks then you are being lazy.  

I try to avoid both of these extremes.

So how do I use social media?

I primarily use social media for business purposes. I’ll use Facebook,Instagram, and LinkedIn primarily to build awareness about Ryan Watkins Photography. Clients will also private message me on these networks. This leads to work. I also have business Twitter and Pinterest accounts. I use Buffer to schedule my business related posts. Using Buffer to schedule posts has saved me a ton of time. Now I don’t have to interpret what I’m doing to post on social media for my business.

I also use social media for networking with others in my industry. I primarily do this thru the Michigan Photography Network facebook group. Other Michigan photographers and I frequently answer people’s photography related questions in this group. I also post twice a day to this group with edifying content of some sort. Usually this is articles or videos. Dank memes seem to be the most popular content though. These twice daily posts are also posted via Buffer and scheduled in advance.

I’ll also give businesses I frequent or have had positive experiences with good reviews.

I’ll use it for meeting with people in real life such as my friends from high school, networking events, and Michigan Photography Network meetups.

For personal use I’ll use goodreads and untaped to keep track of books and craft beer I like. I also use Feedly to keep track of blogs I follow. I have an anonymous Twitter for following some interests. I have never actually sent out a tweet from this account.

I avoid posting about everything I go out and do. If I go to a networking event or hangout with friends I usually don’t post about it. I don’t complain about things in my personal life. Nor do I argue with people about politics or other contentious issues on social media.

In summary, I try to maintain a happy medium between the two extremes of approaching social media. I’ll schedule posts in advance using Buffer to my business accounts to build awareness for Ryan Watkins Photography. I’ll use personal accounts primarily for keeping in touch with old friends and following various hobbies and interests. Thus far this happy medium approach to social media has worked well for me.

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Why I Put My Prices On My Website


Shortly after graduating from the Hallmark Institute of Photography in 2013 I got a call about a potential client who was interested in a child portrait consultation. I went over to the clients home and everything was going well. We planned out the date for the shoot and figured out the specifics for the session. Then I told them my prices. At that time I was way out of their price range. It was a huge waste of both the client and I’s time.

Running a business takes a lot of trial and error. You have to be willing to learn from your mistakes. To avoid having more instances like this I started putting my full price list online. This transparency benefits both my potential clients and myself. Clients can easily see what I offer and decide if I am within their budget before we even meet. This also saves me time from having to meet with potential clients who can’t afford me.

For work outside of my normal wheelhouse, which I refer to as “commissioned work”, I don’t have set prices put on my website but will deliver a quote once I have enough details about the shoot.  

Wedding and session pricing can be found here. Product pricing can be found here.

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Why I Don’t Wear Black To Weddings


It has been a standard in the photography industry for wedding photographers to wear black to weddings. I only do this if the bride and groom request it. I typically only wear black to funerals.

Weddings are a happy occasion and I like to dress accordingly.

During every wedding consultation I always ask the bride and groom what the dress code will be for the wedding. During the wedding day I want to blend in and look like a fellow guest. This allows me to get better candids. I usually wear a blazer or sport coat with dress pants, tie, and pocket square. For more casual weddings I’ll dress down.

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